CANOE — June 16, 2010

Saddledome, Calgary | June 15, 2010 | ★★★★☆
By Lisa Wilton
CANOE — June 16, 2010

CALGARY – Tom Petty was anything but Freefallin’ as he returned to the Saddledome Tuesday night as part of his 2010 Mojo Tour.

The 59-year-old performer and his long-time band The Heartbreakers may have physically slowed a little with age, but they sounded as taut and energetic as ever during the two-hour-long concert.

The interplay between Petty and lead guitarist Mike Campbell was relaxed, but even after so many years together they never looked bored to be in each other’s company.

The band was rounded out by bassist Ron Blair, guitarist Scott Thurston, drummer Steve Ferrone and Benmont Tench on piano.

A bearded Petty wandered back and forth across the stage making sure he acknowledged the almost 12,000 fans who came to see him play some of his biggest hits, including You Don’t Know How It Feels, Freefallin’, Don’t Come Around Here No More and Learning to Fly, all of which were met by huge cheers and a loud sing-a-long by the happy crowd.

Petty’s 1979 single Refugee and I Won’t Back Down from his 1989 album Full Moon Fever sounded as defiant and spirited as when they were first released. They were just two of many songs that showcased his superb songwriting skill.

He left no doubt as to why he is cited as an influence by so many current rock ‘n’ roll, roots and country artists.

I would even go as far as to say many of Petty’s songs hold up better these days than some of Bruce Springsteen’s work from the same era.

What’s great about seeing an act with such an impressive catalogue of songs is the energy level in the venue rarely waned the way it would for a band with only one or two hit singles.

Petty’s set was all killer, no filler. OK, maybe a little filler. But even the slow moments and overlong jams weren’t too painful thanks to the phenomenal musicianship of every person on that stage.

There were, of course, long, languid guitar solos. But they were tastefully executed and wrapped up before they overstayed their welcome.

Petty and The Heartbreakers delved into their new album Mojo a couple of times, but the songs they chose — such as the full-on rocker, I’m Driving Down to Georgia — were consistent with the vibe of the evening.

Petty’s stage setup was simple and there wasn’t much of a light show. But Petty doesn’t need the flash of some modern bands. That’s because he’s got the songs.

Petty’s opening act was no slouch, either.

English blues-rock great Joe Cocker brought his A-game to the Dome, playing an entertaining hour-long greatest hits set.

The ‘Sheffield Soul Shouter’ got things rolling straight away with a note-perfect rendition of Feelin’ Alright before moving onto softer ’70s and ’80s fare.

While the 1974 ballad You Are So Beautiful and his 1983 Grammy-winning duet Up Where We Belong are two of his biggest hits, they sound cheesy and dated.

They certainly paled in comparison to his bluesier and more soulful numbers, where his raspy growl was better utilized.

Cocker also seemed more animated when he was singing songs with a little more edge and a little less sap.

His version of The Beatles’ Come Together was more raw than slinky, although Cocker’s two female backing vocalists added some sex appeal.

In fact, his entire eight-piece band was remarkable — from Mike Finnigan on Hammond organ to Oneida James on bass, the musicians were air-tight and possessed the hard groove of a classic soul revue.

Despite the few moments of cheese, Cocker and his band hit their stride on set highlights, Unchain My Heart and With a Little Help From My Friends.

The spry 66-year-old — who last played Calgary in 2000, opening for Tina Turner — punctuated the ends of songs with a little jump and air punch.

It’ll be hard to find anyone who could complain about not getting their money’s worth.

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